Did you know that New Jersey couples are ranked fifth in the country for spending the most money on engagement rings? According to an article published in Business Insider, the average price paid for an engagement ring in New Jersey is $8,842. As a New Jersey family law attorney who works with couples who purchased engagement and promise rings, I strongly advise my couples to see these expensive jewelry pieces as valuable assets.

If you have any confusion around the topic of rings or other high-priced jewelry or collectibles, it is essential to reach out to a family lawyer who can explain the laws surrounding the issues that may arise among couples who are getting married, separating, or even seeking a divorce. In the meantime, the purpose of this blog is to demystify the legal aspects of engagement and promise rings in New Jersey.

Engagement Rings: A Conditional Gift in NJ

In New Jersey, an engagement ring is seen as a “conditional gift,” meaning that two partners exchange the ring with the mutual agreement or expectation that a special event, such as a future wedding or marriage, will occur. Most of the time, an engagement ring is given by one partner to the other partner with the assumption that they will be married shortly. Therefore, this is considered a condition as it exists hoping to make something else possible.

However, once you learn that an engagement ring is a “conditional gift,” you may wonder what this means if the marriage does not happen. The general rule is that the ring must be returned to the giver if the marriage does not occur and the couple separates or breaks up. The reason for this is that the engagement is now called off, so the party who was given the ring is expected to return it.

It is essential to know that exceptions to the “conditional gift” rule may exist. For example, if you and your partner created a premarital agreement, you may have discussed and included what happens to the engagement ring in the document. Therefore, if you are the one who received the ring and did not want to give it back, you should look over your premarital agreement to ensure that you and your partner agreed that the ring is yours and will remain in your possession. This is why it is essential to have documented proof of the ring’s value, the giver’s intent, and an agreement about what will happen to the ring in place for your reference.

Beyond the “Yes”: the Legalities of Promise Rings

If your partner has given you a promise ring, you may be curious whether it falls under the same “conditional gift” rule as an engagement ring. However, the ownership of promise rings can be less transparent and more challenging to determine as promise rings often lack the “conditional gift” assumption. While you may see your promise ring as a promise that your partner will marry you in the future, it typically does not hold the same weight as an engagement ring. This is because a promise ring is usually less expensive than an engagement ring; it is not given based on a “yes” answer, and there are no plans for a wedding once this ring is exchanged.

Instead, the general idea is that your partner will provide you with an engagement ring (even after giving you a promise ring) when they are ready to pursue marriage. A few of the factors that courts may consider when determining ownership of promise rings after a breakup include:

  • Whether or not a prenup or premarital agreement was in place that mentioned the promise ring
  • Who initiated the breakup or separation
  • What were the intentions behind the promise ring
  • How much the ring is worth
  • Who bought the promise ring
  • Whether anyone was at fault for the breakup or separation

The courts may look at various factors when determining who owns the promise ring after a relationship ends. The main reason is that promise rings are typically considered general rings or jewelry pieces. Therefore, if you want to ensure that you and your partner know and understand who the promise ring belongs to in the event of a breakup, it is crucial to clarify your intentions for the ring and consult with a lawyer about creating a written agreement specifically for promise rings.

The Ring and Divorce: From Joy to Potential Dissonance

One big misconception among couples who take the step to becoming married is that an engagement ring automatically becomes the recipient’s property after the marriage occurs. However, an engagement ring in New Jersey is still a gift, meaning it is considered separate property unless specific evidence proves otherwise. New Jersey’s equitable division laws only pertain to marital property. Therefore, since the engagement ring is separate property, there is still the chance that it could be found to belong to the partner who gave the ring.

If you would like to set in stone the ownership of an engagement ring in the event of divorce, establishing a prenuptial agreement before you get married is highly suggested. To successfully do this, you will meet with a New Jersey family lawyer to discuss ring ownership expectations as part of your premarital planning. This will give you a clear idea of who the ring belongs to and who it will always remain with.

Avoiding Ring-ing in the Courthouse: Practical Tips for New Jersey Couples

No matter what stage your relationship is in, you and your partner must be aware of the tips you should keep in mind when thinking about or after giving rings. Here are four tips that may be able to help you avoid legal disputes over both engagement and promise rings:

  1. Be honest and transparent, and openly communicate your intentions and expectations surrounding the ring.
  2. Document the value and ownership of the ring through receipts or appraisals. Once you have done this, store this documentation safely and efficiently so it can be retrieved when necessary.
  3. Strongly consider developing a prenuptial agreement. As a family law attorney, I cannot express this enough. If your engagement or promise ring has significant value, you must create a prenup that covers your ring.
  4. If you have any questions, concerns, or doubts about a ring, seek legal advice immediately. A family law attorney is experienced, skilled, and knowledgeable in the laws surrounding rings and other types of jewelry, which means that they are a great person to help you comprehend complex information and give you peace of mind.

Call An Ocean County Family Law Attorney Today

When disputes or disagreements arise over engagement rings in a relationship, a New Jersey family lawyer is here to assist you. At Jersey Coast Family Law, we help clients daily with complex situations involving engagement and promise rings. Suppose you need help with property division or want to discuss the possibility of approaching this topic with your partner. In that case, our team is here to provide you with the proper legal guidance. Contact us to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys today. We can help you prevent future headaches by ensuring that you fully understand the legal aspects of engagement and promise rings.

Call us at 732-361-4718. We have offices in Toms River and Red Bank serving clients throughout New Jersey and are the firm Where Family Comes First.